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  4. You can do it! — Case Study Creation Hints 3 (Total of 5)


Human Resource Development

You can do it! — Case Study Creation Hints 3 (Total of 5)

This third installment brings us to the halfway point in this five-part series. In the previous segments we looked at the key points for collecting the information required for case studies, from the selection of cases to the interview stage. In this article and the next, we will look at key aspects of case writing.

Person in Charge of Case Writing

If possible, the case should be written by the person who will act as facilitator for the training course. Through the process of creating the case, you become deeply acquainted with its essential content, which means that the task of facilitation on the training day will be easier. The case forms part of the training materials. Explanations based on training materials that other people have prepared tend to be shallow. When you use materials that you yourself have created, you will be able to facilitate the course based on a deeper understanding of the real meaning and background of the content, and the course will be more convincing for participants. Even if it is not possible for the case creator to facilitate all sessions, the compilation of teaching notes based on the initial facilitation results will be very useful for subsequent sessions.

Case writing can also be outsourced. At Mitsui & Co. HRD Institute we decide which method to use based on the workload of the person in charge, the content of the case, and the budget.

Key Points when Outsourcing

While outsourcing eliminates the need to spend time conducting interviews and writing cases, the costs are often substantial, and the case creation process will inevitably take a long time. The work can be contracted to various service providers, such as training companies, writers, and university teaching staff. The cost and time involved will vary widely, depending on the writer. When outsourcing the work, we recommend that you approach and compare multiple service providers.

We will next look at points that should be kept in mind when outsourcing work to an outside service provider.

The first point concerns the approach to case writing. When outsourcing, there is a tendency to leave everything to the service provider. But, it is important to remain closely involved with the creation process. As the person responsible for the training plan, you need to identify the key points that you want participants to learn from the case study (learning points). In particular, you need to supervise the process carefully to ensure that the story is structured appropriately to the learning points. For that reason, you should always attend interviews and ensure that questions relating to the learning points are asked. During the interviews, you should ask supplementary questions when necessary, and try to maintain a detailed knowledge of the content of the project. This will be useful later when you supervise the creation of the case and facilitate discussions about it.

The second point that should be kept in mind is the terms of the contract. First of all, your company must have the copyright. This is useful if it becomes necessary to modify the case later. Sometimes you need to revise the case due to changes in the business environment. It is also advisable to ensure that your company holds the copyright to secure greater freedom for the future planning process, such as the creation of additional cases. Another useful idea is to make detailed arrangements concerning expenses, such as the cost of travel to carry out interviews. We recommend prior confirmation concerning the number of trips and the grades of hotel and means of transportation used, especially for cases that require information to be gathered overseas.

Key Points When Writing a Case In-House

Writing a case in-house reduces costs but increases the workload. The time required will vary depending on the other tasks being handled by the person in charge, but normally it takes between three and six months. The main work processes begin with the formulation of the case specifications. The other steps leading up to completion are the perusal of documentation relating to the topic, interviews with those concerned, writing, and review by the relevant people. These steps tend to run behind schedule, especially if you are working on other projects at the same time. We recommend that you compile a Gantt chart in the initial stages so that you can check progress on a weekly basis, as the project proceeds.

The initial formulation of case specifications is the most important step, because it forms the backbone for the writing. By taking particular care over this process, you can clarify the theme and envision the structure of the story more easily. The case specifications are created primarily according to the following items.

 Theme: Once you have defined the theme of the case study, it will be easier to develop a story based on the learning points, resulting in more effective learning for the participants.
 Case: Select a case that suits the theme. Because related information will be gathered through interviews, we recommend you to select a project for which it is relatively easy to access interviewees, including those who were directly involved with the project.
 Target audience: Having identified the persons to be trained, you write the case from the reader’s perspective. This will enable training participants to read the case and engage in discussion with a sense of ownership, and to make significant discoveries through the training.
 Content: Create a general framework for the case, including the information to be included, the method for obtaining that information, and viewpoint from which it will be written. It will then be easier to write the case, since you will be able to envision the overall structure.
 Questions: Compose questions that match the theme and the learning points. Usually 3-5 questions are set. The first half of the questions should be designed to elicit as many responses as possible, and the second half to make the participants think deeply about the essence of the learning points. It will be effective to compose a final question that links the new insights gained through the training to actual operations.
 Learning outcomes: By projecting the learning outcomes in advance, it will be easier to incorporate the learning points into the story when writing the case. It will also be easier to facilitate training activities by focusing on the learning points.

Differences between Case Studies and the Case Method

Training based on case studies and training based on the case method is similar but different. To some extent, case studies are influenced by the writer’s subjectivity. Since participants learn from the conclusions presented by the writer, it is easy to theorize and conceptualize, and the learning goals are clear. However, learning tends to be passive because theories are generally introduced through a lecture format using supplementary materials.

With the case method, the aim is to learn through practice. Participants learn primarily through a process in which conclusions are derived from discussions. Because the participants themselves draw conclusions from the discussions, outcomes will vary, and learning will be active. While theoretical knowledge cannot be gained directly from cases using the case method, participants can form concepts introspectively, while linking practical strengths, such as quantitative and qualitative analysis skills, insightfulness, creativity, logic, and judgment, to their own experiences through the discussions. However, because learning outcomes will vary depending on individual participants, you need to find ways to create a sense of ownership on the part of the learners.

You should decide whether to use case studies or the case method, based on the aim of the training program that you are planning.

This article forms the first half of my examination of case writing and focuses mainly on the methods used. In the next article I will go over key points relating to story composition and the setting of questions.

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